Risk Management Training (Part One)

When introducing system safety to instructor pilots, the discussion invariably turns to the loss of traditional stick and rudder skills. The fear is that emphasis on items such as risk management, aeronautical decision-making (ADM), single-pilot resource management (SRM), and situational awareness detracts from the training that is so necessary in developing safe pilots. Also, because the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current Practical Test Standards (PTS) or Airman Certification Standards (ACS) place so much emphasis on stick-and-rudder performance, there is concern that a shifting focus would leave flight students unprepared for that all-too-important check ride.


System Safety Flight Training

Instructors must understand that system safety flight training occurs in three phases. First, there are the traditional stick-and-rudder maneuvers. In order to apply the critical thinking skills that are to follow, pilots must first have a high degree of confidence in their ability to fly the aircraft. Next, the tenets of system safety are introduced into the training environment. In the manner outlined previously, students begin to learn how best to identify hazards, fully recognize all the risks with that hazard and manage or mitigate those risks, and use all available resources to make each flight as safe as possible. This can be accomplished through scenarios that emphasize the skill sets being taught. In the third phase, the student is introduced to more complex scenarios demanding focus on several safety-of-flight issues.

A traditional stick-and-rudder maneuver, such as a short-field landing, can be used to illustrate how ADM and risk management can be incorporated into instruction. In phase I, the initial focus is on developing the stick-and-rudder skills required to execute this operation safely. These include power and airspeed management, aircraft configuration, placement in the pattern, wind correction, determining the proper aim point and sight picture, etc. By emphasizing these points through repetition and practice, a student will eventually acquire the skills needed to execute a short-field landing.

Phase II introduces the many factors that come into play when performing a short-field landing, which include runway conditions, no-flap landings, airport obstructions, and rejected landings. The introduction of such items does not need to increase training times. In fact, all of the hazards or considerations referenced in the short-field landing lesson plan may be discussed in detail during the ground portion of the instructional program. For example, if training has been conducted at an airport which enjoys an obstruction free 6,000-foot runway, consider the implications of operating the same aircraft out of a 1,800 foot strip with an obstruction off the departure end. Add to that additional considerations, such as operating the aircraft at close to its maximum gross weight under conditions of high density altitude. Now, a single training scenario has several layers of complexity. The ensuing discussion proves a valuable training exercise, and it comes with little additional ground training and no added flight training.

Finally, phase III takes the previously discussed hazards, risks, and considerations and incorporates them into a complex scenario. This forces a student to consider not only a specific lesson item (in this case, short-field landings), but also requires that it be viewed in the greater context of the overall flight. For example, on a cross-country flight, the student is presented with a realistic distraction, perhaps the illness of a passenger. This forces a diversion to an alternate for which the student has not planned. The new destination airport has two runways, the longest of which is closed due to construction. The remaining runway is short, but while less-than-ideal, should prove suitable for landing. However, upon entering the pattern, the student finds the electrically driven flaps will not extend. The student must now consider whether to press on and attempt the landing or proceed to a secondary alternate.


If he or she decides to go forward and attempt the landing, this will prove an excellent time to test the requisite stick-and-rudder skills. If the student decides to proceed to a second alternate, this opens new training opportunities. Proceeding further tests cross-country skills, such as navigation, communication, management of a passenger in distress, as well as the other tasks associated with simply flying the aircraft. The outlined methodology simply takes a series of seemingly unrelated tasks and scripts them into a training exercise requiring both mechanical and cognitive skills for successful completion.

In addition, system safety may be applied to important safety lessons with less quantifiable performance standards. For example, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) is an issue of concern to all pilots. In general aviation (GA), CFIT normally results from a combination of factors including weather, unfamiliar environment, nonstandard procedures, breakdown or loss of communications, loss of situational awareness, lack of perception of hazards, and lack of sound risk management techniques. Collectively, these conditions are difficult to replicate in most flight training environments. However, the subject may still be covered effectively during ground school and cross-country flight operations by using system safety methodology. Because CFIT is always the final “link” in the accident chain, it must be taught within the context of other flight operations; operations that increase the likelihood of a CFIT accident. This not only helps illustrate how easily these accidents can occur, it also highlights the conditions under which such accidents most often take place.

Other sources of risk management training available to the pilot are the various pilot organizations, such as the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and numerous aircraft associations. All these organizations have variations of pilot experiences and solutions to situations in their publications. AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation provides live seminars throughout the country and online training at the AOPA website: www.aopa.org.


Setting Personal Minimums

One of the most important concepts that safe pilots understand is the difference between what is “legal” in terms of the regulations, and what is “smart” or “safe” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency. By establishing personal minimums, pilots can take a big step in managing risk. In the article, “Getting the Maximum from Personal Minimums,” (May/June 2006 FAA Aviation News), the FAA General Aviation and Commercial Division, AFS-800, discusses six steps for establishing personal minimums.

Step 1—Review Weather Minimums

Most people think of personal minimums primarily in terms of weather conditions, so begin with a quick review of weather definitions. The regulations define weather flight conditions for visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR) in terms of specific values for ceiling and visibility. [Figure 8-1]

Figure 8-1. The regulations define weather flight conditions for visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR) in terms of specific values for ceiling and visibility.

Figure 8-1. The regulations define weather flight conditions for visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR) in terms of specific values for ceiling and visibility.

IFR is defined as a ceiling less than 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) and/or visibility less than three miles. Low instrument flight rules (LIFR) is a subcategory of IFR. VFR has ceiling greater than 3,000 feet AGL and visibility greater than five miles. Marginal visual flight rules (MVFR) is a subcategory of VFR.